Monday, March 23, 2015

Michael Harshaw 1807 -1876

Ireland was home for Michael for the first 17 years of his life.
Baptism Record for Michael
County Down Near Harshaw Farm?
He was born in the townland of Ballydogherty, Loughgilly Parish, County Armagh, the son of Andrew Harshaw and Sarah Henry. When he was born in 1807, he had 4 older brothers, Andrew, Joseph, Henry, and David. The family lived in a small house several hundred yards down a long lane from Ballydogherty Road.
Possible Harshaw House, Ballydogherty Road

Life was good for this red haired Irish boy for the first years of his life. English rule had been made less difficult for Irish citizens by English need for Irish farm produce. After years of war with France, Irish farm prices, and rents rose sharply. Finally farmers like Andrew had some extra money that allowed them to indulge in such luxuries as a table and chairs, more beds for the children.

Two more children had joined the Harshaw family, William and Sarahm before the war ended in 1815. Hard times had begun for Michael and his family two years earlier when Andrew died.  He was buried in the Presbyterian Church at Tyrone's Ditches, which he had helped found.

The older boys were expected to manage the farm work. Though Michael was only 6 years old when his father died, he was expected to carry an increasing workload as he grew older. Economic necessity made Michael's great yearning for an education,, an impossible dream.

The family managed to cope with the hardships of Andrew's loss. But when the English war ended in 1815, a terrible depression hit Ireland. Crop prices fell, but rents remained at wartime levels. Twice a year, in May and November, all lease holders like the Harshaws, had to appear before the land owner or his agent to pay the rent. Often families like the Harshaws went hungry in order to save enough to pay the rent.

All across Ulster, families began to auction off their leases to get enough money to travel to Canada or the United States. When word came back to Ireland that they had found land in the remote parts of the county, more families joined their friends and families in America. The Harshaws of Loughgilly were one of those who reluctantly made the decision to leave Ireland.

But first, they had to have enough money to pay for passage. Apparently, the Harshaws sold a pig to get ticket money. By this time in 1824, Michael had become a very strong young man. The family decided that he could find a job that would pay enough to help bring the rest of the family to America. But rather than travel alone, it was decided that his older brotherAndrew would go with him.

Usually such partings were permanent. But when Michael set out down the lane with a small satchel and a blanket, he had hopes that he might see his family again in America. They were depending on him to earn enough money to make sure that this reunion took place.

Michael and Andrew walked through Newry and on toward Warrenpoint where the ship was waiting to depart on the first proper tide. He tried to memorize Ireland as he walked, for he knew he would never see the land he loved again.

Warrenpoint was the shipping center for the area. It was possible to travel directly to Canada from there.  The last view of home for Michael was of the mountains of Mourne and Carlingford,
as the brig sailed down the lough toward the Irish Sea.
Carlingford Lough


The passage to Canada was a stormy and long one. Michael was grateful for the extra bag of oatmeal his mother had packed in his bag. So when he first saw land birds and knew that land was near, he was very glad. As the ship sailed down the St. Lawrence River, Michael could compare the land of Canada with the land of home. He first set foot in his new land in the city of Quebec. The city was cramped into a narrow strip of land between the river and the cliffs.

Smaller steamers sailed up and down the river every day between Montreal and Quebec. Michael and Andrew quickly boarded one for the next stage of their trip. They needed to get to their destination before they had no money left. From Montreal, they set out by boat and on foot to reach Lewiston, near Buffalo. There they hoped to find work on the Erie Canal.

Many Irish immigrants had been working for several years to build this canal across the state of New York. The last segment was under construction, In order to raise the boats to the level of Lake Erie, a series of locks were being constructed over the Niagara Escarpment.
Both Harshaws were immediately hired for this challenging project. Men working on the canal signed contracts to work for 80 cents a day, plus all the whiskey they could drink. This was twice the average wage paid at that time.

Michael didn't drink, so this part of his pay was of no use to him. Living conditions were harsh. The men were fed substantial meals, but they lived in wooden sheds that moved with the workers as the canal building progressed. Each man slept of a bare plank of a double decker bed. There was no glass in the windows to protect them from the winter which was colder than any Michael had ever known, or screens to keep out the insects of summer. Still Michael was pleased to have work that would enable him to bring his family to America soon.

His fellow workers enjoyed consuming their whiskey in the evening. But Michael did not drink, and his sober presence made them uncomfortable. So a group of the Irish workers decided to force Michael to join them in their drunken rowdiness. Michael saw the group coming for him, and figured out what they intended. Michael stood almost 6 feet tall, and was strong from years of hard work. He didn't intend to go down without a fight. The leader of the group was a small and stocky Scotsman. Michael walked out to meet the mob. He grabbed the leader by the back of the neck and the seat of his pants, raised him over his head and dropped him to the ground behind him.

Michael's actions knocked the wind out of the leader and his followers as well. They retreated and left Michael alone in his sobriety. This action caught the attention of the supervisors. His whiskey allowance was converted to cash. Michael found himself making the grand wage of $1 a day. Perhaps this was also the reason why Michael was entrusted with the dangerous work of blasting the rock wall to make the lock construction possible. Such dangerous work would command extra money. Michael was undoubtedly pleased to be making such high wages, and viewed the danger as worth the risk.

The Erie Canal opened in the fall of 1825. It was time for the rest of the family to come to America. When they safely arrived, the reunited family left New York and headed to Western Pennsylvania where Michael's uncle William and family already had acquired their own land. Now, it was the hope of Michael's family that they would be able to create a farm of their own too.

Michael Harshaw > William Roseborough Harshaw > Harold McCloskey Harshaw > Marjorie Harshaw (Robie)

(To be continued.)

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